We rarely see older single-player games experience a surge in player count, especially with no major updates. So let’s take a closer look at the weird case of The Descendant, the 2016 episodic adventure game from Swedish company Gaming Corps.

2016 game The Descendant peaks at over 120k CCU on Steam due to influx of card farming bots

What happened?

Thousands of players started flocking to The Descendant earlier this month, eight years after it first launched on Steam. According to SteamDB, the game reached 54.6k concurrent users on June 11, with several sudden spikes occurring over the next couple of weeks. It eventually peaked at 128,847 CCU a few hours ago.

Such a sharp increase in player count looks abnormal, especially compared to its average numbers and even peaks in previous months. In June 2023, The Descendant managed to reach 35k CCU, when its key was sold as part of the Fanatical Intrigue Bundle.

This time the reason is clearly different. The game itself is a story-driven adventure distributed through the episodic model. Given its single-player nature and lack of any updates, it is hard to explain why so many people returned to it all of the sudden.

At the time of writing, over 117k users are playing The Descendant simultaneously, meaning the game could hit a new all-time high in the coming days. So what’s going on here?

Does The Descendant attract bots that collect free cards?

The first thing that comes to mind, as some forum users and outlets like PCGamesN pointed out, is that many players could have confused the game’s name with Nexon’s upcoming free-to-play looter shooter The First Descendant.

Even though The Descendant is a premium title, the first episode is offered for free (you’ll have to purchase the entire season for $15 to get the full experience). So the theory is that people clicked on the Install button, mistaking it for a completely different game.

Although this may be true to some extent, it is unlikely to be the main reason. It is hard to believe that hundreds of thousands of players have rushed to the wrong game over the past few days without checking screenshots, trailers, and other information. After all, these two projects have nothing in common, from genre to visuals.

A more likely reason is connected to the Steam Community Market. It appears that you can get three cards by playing the free episode of The Descendant. Here is one weird thing: users can earn cards in premium titles just by playing them, but in free-to-play products, this process is tied to in-game purchases. As Valve explains, “for every $9 USD spent (approximate) since the launch of the game’s trading cards, you will earn one card drop.”

Despite being free, Episode 1 of The Descendant still somehow drops cards (see the image below). It may still be considered a premium product, or there is a chance that Valve didn’t mark the free episode as ineligible for item drops.

We were able to get a card shortly after launching The Descendant – Episode 1 for the first time

Here’s also what one user on the Steam forums assumed: “It’s because the [Counter-Strike 2] item inventory phishing/scam bots are all playing it.” This “idle” gaming (without actually playing a game) is usually done to increase hours and disguise these fake accounts as real people. And to farm cards, of course.

So it really looks like The Descendant is being heavily botted right now — similar to the case of free-to-play clicker Banana, which experienced an influx of bots and recently even peaked at over 900k concurrent players.

Tens of thousands of people are now trading The Descendant items on the Steam Community Market. For example, there are currently over 19k “Silas” cards for sale, which is abnormal for a small single-player game launched eight years ago. And the supply continues to grow.

User reviews are another indicator that this surge in The Descendant has nothing to do with real people and those who confuse it with The First Descendant. The game has received less than 10 reviews since June 22, when the biggest spike in player count happened. This wouldn’t be the case if most of those users were real.

It will be interesting to see whether Valve takes any measures to prevent bots from flocking to The Descendant. Otherwise, this is a really interesting (and rare) case of a single-player game to suddenly become a bait for so many suspicious accounts.

128k concurrent players didn’t have any impact on the number of recent reviews for The Descendant

What is known about the studio behind The Descendant?

Gaming Corps is a small Swedish developer, which was founded in 2012 by former Starbreeze executives Nicklas Dunham (head of marketing & sales) and Jens Larsson (lead designer). They both left the company in November 2016 and January 2017, respectively.

The studio’s first project was mobile game Riddick: The Merc Files, released on iOS and Android in 2013. After that, the team moved to The Descendant, which was published by Microids. The game came out in March 2016 and received mixed reviews from the press (61/100 on Metacritic).

It is hard to say how successful The Descendant was. We only found an old press release stating that “since its official free release on March 22nd, The Descendant Episode 1 had 110,000 new users.”

Over the next several years, Gaming Corps released several games — Voyage of the Dead, American Ninja Warrior, and Oh Frog — that didn’t gain much recognition. There was also mobile title Fear the Walking Dead: Dead Run, which was eventually removed from the stores.

Gaming Corps then shifted its focus to iGaming, an area that includes various online casinos, poker, and other gambling projects. It is unclear whether the company plans to make any traditional video games again, especially when you look at dozens of online titles in its portfolio.

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